Search engine optimization, or SEO, is part of the digital marketing strategy that makes or breaks a website. It’s not as simple as slipping in keywords wherever possible, and usually a consultant should be brought on to save time. However, there are many types out there, and not all of them are trustworthy. Hiring a shady one will not only lose you money, it can jeopardize your business in the long run by incurring penalties from search engines like Google for breaking the rules, hurting your traffic and profits for months or years to come. To scout out if a consultant is good, here’s some questions to ask:
1) What’s your process?
The first thing that should be determined is it the consultant has a serious strategy. A bad consultant will wave the question away, citing confidentiality or that they can’t say until you’ve hired them. The truth is that if you knew the tools they use, you’d run! A good consultant won’t outright give you a detailed plan, but they should be able to give an overview of the steps they’ll take: an audit of your current SEO, evaluating the quality of your content, looking for strong keywords, and so on.
2) Can you guarantee results for me?
Shady consultants will say yes without a second thought. In fact, they’ll advertise it, claiming they can get you to the top three results in a short amount of time. But, like medicine, engineering, or any other applied science, a good consultant will only tell you they’ll try their best.
The reason for this cautiousness is not a lack of skill, but a lack of complete knowledge. Google keeps its ranking algorithm secret. Not only that, this is changed regularly, and while the way parts of it work can be sniffed out by trial and error, nobody ever has the full story. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying or deluded.
3) Can you get me quick results? Say, in a week?
Once again, the correct answer is “not likely”. The way proper SEO works is by organically building up your website’s relevance, taking weeks or months to start producing visible impact. Bad consultants can get your site to the top rankings for a brief period, but this is done via “black hat” tactics – spamming backlinks, embedding hidden keywords in the background, scraping, and the like.
4) How frequently will I receive reports? Please show me a sample.
If the consultant returns a Google Analytics page, either they’re lazy, or have something to hide. Either way, it’s a warning sign. Monthly reports are the standard. SEO works fairly independently, so you should be in contact no more than a few times a month.
A proper report should contain details such as rankings, keyword performance, traffic for the month, and conversions, as well as useful information like suggestions on where to go from there. A good SEO consultant not only finds problems, but makes improvements, such as by noticing that certain keywords do better and noting that a focus on those would yield better results.
5) How good are you with local search results?
Physical businesses like plumbing services, pipe installers, or goods traders gain much more from local searches. For online businesses that ship globally, this isn’t as much an issue, but it makes a massive difference in conversions when the potential customer has to be in the region for them to make a purchase.
Bad consultants will downplay this, saying “all publicity is good publicity”, or that raw traffic is what’s most important. Good ones will show you their track record.
On a side note, when looking for consultants, add your region to the search. For example, if you are based in Toronto, companies that show up under the searches for “SEO Toronto” or “SEM Toronto” would be better suited for you than just “SEO” – they are more in touch with the hot keywords for the region and ongoings that could pose opportunities.
In conclusion, a good SEO consultant will be transparent and support realistic expectations. They will keep you updated, and work with you, rather than work on you and run before you notice something’s not right. The potential for growth with SEO is tremendous, so when you hire, do it right, and you will reap the rewards – not instantly, but in a reasonable time frame.